The Scripture readings appointed for today include the story of Jesus announcing the core of his teaching, as recounted in Luke 10:25-37:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."
(Emphasis added.) This story obviously was significant to the early Christians, because it shows up in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, at Matt. 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-34, as well as in Luke.
Matthew's version of the story seems to suggest that everything else is just details: It ends with Jesus telling his questioners, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Throughout my younger days, I heard these lessons being read aloud at church. But they didn't really sink in until one Sunday morning when my kids were little. At that time I was a self-professed agnostic who had long before rejected most Christian dogma, on grounds that it seemed fabricated from whole cloth.
That Sunday, as I was idly flipping through the Bible during the sermon, I encountered the Great Commandment story. I had something of a eureka moment on a small scale: "That's what it's all about -- it makes perfect sense."
Not all Christians feel this way. Some claim that to be "saved," you must do more than simply follow the Great Commandment -- you must also have a personal relationship with Jesus; or accept the supremacy, and perhaps even the inerrancy, of Scripture; or accept Jesus as your personal savior; or subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion; or invite Jesus into your life; or be baptized by immersion, as opposed to by sprinkling; etc., etc. The Great Commandment story, however, suggests that Jesus seems to have had a different view.
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Postscript: I'd be remiss if I failed to note that the Great Commandment's component parts come straight from the Hebrew Bible, in Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18. In Luke's account, immediately after proclaiming the Great Commandment, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, thus expanding the definition of "neighbor" to include not just one's own people (per Leviticus), but even despised aliens such as Samaritans.
I've always viewed the adhering to the great commandment as something to be done after one is "saved", not the means by which one is "saved". Salvation is recieving the free gift of Grace from God--what he has accomplished for me through the person and work of Jesus Christ on the Cross through believing. Being Justified. Then I begin my life of discipleship and allow God to begin the process of transforming me. Becoming Sanctified. Part of that sanctification process is then living my life under his guidance, by his standard. A centerpiece of that is to live my life no longer just for myself but for God and with consideration for my neighbors--the great commandment.
Posted by: bill | July 13, 2004 at 01:55 PM
Bill, I'm afraid I can't see how your view can be reconciled with Jesus's command to go and do likewise. More generally, I have a different view than you about the mechanism of grace and salvation. I've never been able to subscribe to the notion that Jesus's one-time sacrifice was somehow enough to buy salvation for anyone who had faith "in" him. (See here for additional comments arguing that the proper translation is "the faith of Jesus.") Nor have I been able to grasp to the view that faith alone is what saves you, with no room for works. That has always struck me as a Lutheran overreaction to Roman abuses.
I speculate that what we call salvation may well work something like this: Faith and works feed on each other to produce grace, in the same way that two logs in a fireplace help keep each other hot enough for both to continue burning. I suspect that simply living the life of discipleship, however grudgingly, can lead gradually to a change of mind and heart: that is, to metanoia (the Greek term usually translated as repentance). This change of mind and heart can lead in turn to still more love for God and neighbor, often manifested in part as still more works, in a virtuous cycle. But as I say, this is sheer speculation on my part.
In any case, many thanks for the comment.
Posted by: D. C. | July 13, 2004 at 02:33 PM
D.C. I suspect that we would probably have to agree to disagree on what would constitute the assurance of salvation and modes by which one can live a hope-filled, joyful life of discipleship. My blessings to you as you continue your searching and questioning!
Posted by: bill | July 15, 2004 at 10:57 AM
May I suggest reading about the "new" commandment Jesus gave his disciples? "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you..." (John 13,15) How does He love us? We need to die for others in perfect obedience to God the Father, and come out the other side to talk about it. Othewise it'll be in vain.
Posted by: Michael Patrick | May 18, 2005 at 06:06 PM
Soul (eternal) salvation MUST be a eureka moment. It was for myself. It was for Martin Luther. Zane Hodges, author of Absolutely Free!, says that it is impossible to obey the great comandment unless one understands that salvation is by faith alone and absolutely free.
We see salvation as a eureka moment in other places like in Luke 5, where Jessus heals the paraplegic.
Posted by: Wilbur H. Entz | March 25, 2008 at 02:58 PM
Wilbur Entz, my response would have to be a variation on My Favorite Theological Question: How exactly does Zane Hodges presume to know — and what gives him the effrontery to declare — that supposedly "it is impossible to obey the great comandment unless one understands that salvation is by faith alone and absolutely free."
Thanks for visiting.
Posted by: D. C. Toedt III | March 25, 2008 at 03:03 PM